Sunday, 29 September 2013

The PCS union and the sex trade

Amongst the paperwork that arrived on my desk from the union on Thursday was a consultation paper on (motion) A27; Sex workers and the sex trade. I had noticed the motion on the conference agenda this year, but not being able to attend, the motion did not particularly register in my mind. Our delegates had an entirely "listen & decide" mandate from the Branch, but this was not one that either delegate chose to mention on their return.

Given the PCS union is currently bogged down in a dispute with  the Government over issues more directly affecting members nobody (including myself) had treated this particular motion with much urgency.

There are hundreds of motions submitted to conference every year and there are always motions like this one which go into issues that are not at the forefront of members minds. For example for years in one of the predecessor unions there was always a motion from one branch calling for the return of Albania's gold. As far as I'm aware it never got debated and in any case with the fall of the Hoxha regime they did indeed get their gold bullion back.

Nevertheless we have now been presented with a paper that tackles the thorny issue of the sex trade and in particular prostitution. One issue that needs to be immediately separated from this is the question of human trafficking, or slavery which it actually is.

There can be no question that the union, its' members or anyone else should be opposed to this vile (and already illegal) trade. There is in fact an organisation that PCS should consider affiliation to, the Anti-Slavery Campaign which runs world wide campaigns against this evil trade.

Then there is the question of the sex trade itself. The papers writers seem to take to broad a view of what should be included in this. For example they suggest that those who run "Anne Summers parties" should be treated as such.  The logic would also imply that the shop workers in Anne Summers would also fit into this category, though I'm not so sure that any of these people would consider themselves part of the "sex trade" as they simply sell "adult clothing & toys", which seems to me to be pretty innocuous and after all what consenting adults do in private is their own concern.

Being quite "liberal" on such matters, the same principle would apply to the production and consumption of adult pornography, which by my definition excludes other non-adult or child imagery which is and always should remain both illegal and unacceptable.

The paper also covers the question of prostitution often described as the "oldest profession" and one that causes much moral questioning. In my view whilst "pimping" is and should remain outlawed, there is a need to be practical about the whole issue.

Prostitution has existed throughout the ages and the authors seem to think that prostitution will not end after capitalism, which leads me to believe that this paper has influences from the revolutionary left. Capitalism in nowhere near being ended and I was not aware that "ending capitalism" was part of the PCS unions remit. However the lines between the Socialist Party of England & Wales (SPEW) and the PCS as a union have become very blurred over the years.

The real and more practical question for the moment is the protection of the women involved in the trade and whether they should have the right to belong to a trade union. There are organisations which work on behalf of these women one of which is the English Collective of Prostitutes who also work with others around the world for their rights. The statement they have issued includes the following:

All sex workers must be decriminalised whether they work on the street or in premises.
Scrap the prostitution laws: they criminalize sex workers, divide us from our families and friends, make us vulnerable to violence, and set us apart from the rest of the community — separate is never equal.
An end to police brutality, corruption, racism and other illegality against sex workers: police who break the law should be prosecuted.
Protection from the police and courts against rape and other violence, whoever is the rapist.
No zones, no licensing, no legalised brothels which ghettoize sex workers; we oppose all forms of apartheid.
An end to racism and other discrimination within the sex industry.
Sex workers must be recognized as workers with rights like other workers, including the right to pensions, the right to form and join trade unions.
Free/low cost, high quality and flexible childcare for all children regardless of their mothers’ occupation or ‘lifestyle’.
Free, accessible and non-discriminatory health services for all: no mandatory health checks or HIV tests.
The right to legal aid.
Autonomy and self-determination for prostitute women and other sex workers. Sex workers must decide how we want to work: we oppose any form of legalization which gives powers to police, local authorities, pimps, madams or other managers to regulate our wages and working conditions and censor what we demand so that they and those they work for can profit from our work. Workers must decide, not the industry.
Prostitute women must have the right to organize independently from men, including male sex workers.
Sex workers must organize independently from pimps, police and those who are managers in the sex industry. Unions are for workers not for bosses.
These are demands that should be considered for serious and open minded debate within the trade union & labour movement. However this debate will continue and your opinions are welcomed

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